Intel releases tools to support super-chips

Chip giant encourages developers to port their wares to Pentium 4 and Itanium with new compilers

Intel on Monday released new software development tools to support its next-generation processors, the latest move to ensure there will be plenty of software available for its embattled cutting-edge products.

The delayed Pentium 4 will be released later this year in a version for severs, while Itanium -- the first Intel chip to use its 64-bit architecture -- will appear early next year. However, both chips face stiff competition from rivals such as AMD in the PC space and Sun Microsystems and IBM in the server market.

The tools released Monday, version 5.0 of Intel's C++ Compiler for Windows and Fortran Compiler for Windows, make it easier for software developers to optimise their products for Pentium 4. Also included is a pre-release version of compilers for Itanium, designed to ease the process of developing for the completely new 64-bit platform.

Pentium 4, formerly codenamed Willamette, is Intel's first ground-up processor core redesign since the current "P6" core, introduced with the Pentium Pro processor in 1995. It is designed to allow Pentium to scale far beyond the 1GHz barrier, and Intel wants it to become the mainstream desktop processor by the first quarter of next year.

For developers, the chip offers such advancements as Streaming SIMD Extensions 2 (the sequel to SSE), which speeds up many operations related to graphics and heavy calculations.

However, Pentium 4 will debut in an expensive form designed for servers. The chip also faces competition from AMD's Athlon and its upcoming successors.

Itanium is more of a challenge to develop for than Pentium 4, as it requires code to be rewritten to take full advantage of 64-bit performance. The chip will run 32-bit code but industry observers expect the performance of 32-bit code will be unsatisfactory.

Intel expects the new tools to be a boon to developers. "This gives developers a standard product they can use for software running either on an existing Itanium platform, or to test on a 32-bit platform," said an Intel representative.

Itanium is not expected to surpass the performance of current alternatives such as such as Sun's UltraSPARC III machines or IBM's Power4 architecture, or even to reach the performance of the Pentium 4 Xeon. McKinley, which will appear about a year after Itanium, is designed to run most tasks at twice the speed of Itanium.

Partly because of the performance issue, analysts say, Intel is having to work to get operating system and software vendors to create versions of their products for IA-64, the family name for Itanium and McKinley.

"Although support for Itanium is a mile wide, in many cases it is only an inch deep," wrote analyst Linley Gwennap of Linley Group in a report last week. "McKinley, not Itanium, will determine the fate of IA-64."

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